Since this is going to be our last Player Profile of the college basketball season, there’s only one player that deserves our final feature of the year: Shabazz Napier. Just two nights ago Shabazz played in his last collegiate game, capping off an unbelievable career at the University of Connecticut with a 60-54 win over Kentucky to capture UConn’s fourth national title in program history. Throughout his four year career, Shabazz has proven he is arguably one of college basketball‘s best players and deserves the recognition.
During his first year in Storrs, Napier averaged 7.8 points per game, three assists and 1.6 steals per game on 23.8 minutes of play per game. Those are really solid numbers for a freshman. Especially when you consider the fact that this team feature former UConn stars such as Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi and of course, Kemba Walker. Shabazz may not have been the star his freshman year but there is no doubt that he contributed to UConn’s success in 2010. The Huskies finished the year with a record of 32-9, capped off with a 53-41 victory over Butler to win the National Championship.
With the departure of Kemba Walker to the NBA Draft, many Husky fans expected Napier to fill that void heading in to the 2011 season. As a sophomore, Shabazz saw a considerable increase in his production as he recorded 13 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. Although the Massachusetts native had some phenomenal performances in 2010, his best game came during an 87-70 win over Coppin State where he put up 22 points, 12 boards and 13 assists. I feel as though this game alone proved his potential and gave college basketball fans a glimpse into the future of Napier and UConn basketball.
By the time his junior season rolled around, expectations for Napier as well as the UConn Huskies were as high as ever. The junior guard put up 17.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game on a career-high 37.3 minutes per game. He even averaged a career-high in steals per game with two a game. But if there’s one thing Shabazz proved in 2012 it was his consistency. In fact, he recorded at least ten points in 24 of his 28 games that season, eclipsing the 20-point mark eight times. Unfortunately, UConn was barred from postseason play so his season was disappointingly cut short.
Heading into his senior year, Napier was a preseason selection on a number of watch lists including the Wooden Award and Naismith Award. In 2013, Napier averaged career-highs in points (18), three-point percentage (40.5%), free-throw percentage (87%) and rebounds (5.9). Now, I can’t help but bring up his versatility, it seems as though he can do almost anything. In just his second game of the season he recorded his second career triple-double (10th in UConn history) in an 80-62 victory over Yale.
But as we all know, his best basketball of the season, and arguably his career, came in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. In UConn’s six NCAA games, Napier averaged 21.1 points, 5.5 boards and 4.5 assists per game, making him only the 4th player in NCAA Tournament history to record 125 points, 25 rebounds and 25 assists in a single tournament (Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose and Larry Bird). Of course, the Huskies went on to win the National Championship–Napier’s second–with a 60-54 win over John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. Shabazz’s inspired postseason play earned him the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and forever cemented his legacy at the University of Connecticut.
In addition to his MOP honors, Napier was a two-time First Team All-Conference selection (Big East in 2013 and AAC in 2014). He was named the AAC Player of the Year and awarded the Bob Cousy Award in 2014 alongside being named a consensus First-Team All-American. And don’t forget his two national titles. There’s no doubt that Napier has gone through a wild career, almost skipping his senior year for the NBA to winning it all in 2014. Needless to say, it’s got to be pretty sweet to be Shabazz Napier right about now. Although his playing days at UConn are now over, let us not forget the legacy of excellence, memories and impact he has left on the game of college basketball.
Who was your favorite college player this season?
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